identifying toxicity


Kennels
Castle Anvard


Lanisen is sitting on the hearth, hidden from view by the haybales. Most of the hounds are with him, flopped over the floor in several exhausted heaps. Some of them are still damp, as from a recent bath.

Megren knocks lightly on the doorframe as she comes in.

Lanisen glances up from his book, listening for a moment before he calls, “Hello?” A couple of hounds rouse and go out to investigate.

Megren calls, “It’s me… oh, ah — hello.”

Lanisen sets his book aside and follows the hounds out. “Hey, you.”

Megren wrinkles her nose at him as she tries to offer three hounds her two hands. “Hello.”

Lanisen clicks his tongue at the hounds to call them off as he crosses to the tea shelf. “Good day?”

Megren says, “Many defeated targets.”

Lanisen mms approvingly.

Megren asks, “How about you?”

Lanisen says, “Many clean dogs.”

Megren says, “Victory if ever I heard one.”

Lanisen grins, reaching down two cups and the chamomile. “They coursed; I bathed. We’re all worn out.”

Megren says, “Oh good, we can all collapse together, then.”

Lanisen asks, “Did you get supper?”

Megren asks, “Yeah, did you?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, I went to the hall a couple hours ago.” He loops the two cups over his fingers to carry them one-handed and adds the teapot before he heads back behind the barrier. The dogs trail after him.

Megren trails the dogs. “I brought scones, though,” she says, lifting a small burlap bag.

Lanisen says, “Scones! What kind?”

Megren says, “I think they have raisins.”

Lanisen hmms approvingly. “Should we toast ’em?”

Megren taps her lip and then turns to go back outside the hay-fort and find a knife. “Yes, please.”

Lanisen calls after her, kneeling to start the kettle, “Butter on the top shelf if you like.”

Megren says, “/Yes/.”

Lanisen snorts with laughter and stokes up the fire a bit, sitting away to wait. He takes and releases a deep breath, then reaches over to tidy up the space a little bit. The dogs are beginning to stir, but there is a well-run and well-fed lassitude over the pack, and it stays quiet.

Megren returns with butter and knife. “Here we are.”

Lanisen says, “Good, yeah.”

Megren plunks down on a bail. “I could sleep for a thousand years, I think.”

Lanisen asks, “Yeah? Rough day?”

Megren says, “Just, a lot.”

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side sympathetically.

Megren lifts her shoulders. “Here now, though.”

Lanisen asks, “What’s goin’ on?”

Megren lies flat on the bale, her legs hanging over the end. “Sir Darrin keeps having meetings that I’m mostly not supposed to go to so it’s just a whole lot of drills by myself.”

Lanisen raises his eyebrows, carefully bland, and gets the scones toasting. “Huh.”

Megren glances at his back, frowning uncertainly.

Lanisen asks, “What’re you workin’ on, mostly?”

Megren says, “Stuff in armor.”

Lanisen gets the scones situated and turns back around, sitting on the hearth and facing Megren. “That sounds exhausting,” he remarks.

Megren says, “My arms have died.”

Lanisen awws.

Megren says, “I feel your sympathy.”

Lanisen grins, then asks more seriously, “Is there anything you’re needin’? You can have some of my ointment if you want it, it’s on the shelf with the tea.”

Megren says, “I’ve got some things.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Megren says, “Tea and scones sounds /great/ though.”

Lanisen snorts. He checks the kettle, which isn’t /quite/ whistling but making that gurgly almost-boiling sound, and decides it’s close enough. He pours the water, glancing at the scones. “Couple minutes.”

Megren says, “Ugh.”

Lanisen says, “How should I distract you?”

Megren says, “Probably with songs.”

Lanisen says, “I’m not singin’, you’ll have to do the singin’.”

Megren complains, “What.”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders in a that’s-just-the-way-it-is sort of way, pressing his lips together regretfully.

Megren says, “Well, dancing would do.”

Lanisen glances around the small dog-littered space.

Megren gives him a blithe smile.

Lanisen says, “You ask too much.”

Megren asks, “I?”

Lanisen says regretfully, “Thou.”

Megren says, “Never.”

Lanisen hmms.

Megren tries a pitiful smile.

Lanisen picks up a piece of straw and throws it at her.

Megren looks aghast.

Lanisen giggles.

Megren says, “You have no heart.”

Lanisen says, “None.”

Megren sighs morosely.

Lanisen says, “I have a scone, though,” and offers her the one.

Megren says, “Thou paragon of friendship.”

Lanisen performs a sitting bow.

Megren reaches fruitlessly for the scone in his hand and then lets her arm fall limp.

Lanisen makes an aggrieved noise, then gets to his feet and brings her her scone.

Megren says, “Thank youuu.”

Lanisen pours her tea and brings her that too, while he’s at it.

Megren says, “I take it all back.”

Lanisen says, “That’s right.”

Megren says, “But now I’m going to have to sit up.”

Lanisen clicks his tongue sympathetically.

Megren takes a breath and does so with a groan.

Lanisen hands her the tea.

Megren says, “Thank you,” with less gusto this time.

Lanisen says, “No need to get so excited, it’s just tea.”

Megren sticks her tongue out and takes a sip.

Lanisen fetches his own scone and tea and returns to sit by her on the bale.

Megren releases a tired, but mostly contented, breath.

Lanisen plants his elbows on his knees, breaking apart the scone to eat in small bites. “Have you got anything else tonight?”

Megren says, “Sleep.”

Lanisen mms and nods. He picks a raisin out of the scone and eats it slowly.

Megren eats her own scone pretty ravenously.

Lanisen offers her half of his.

Megren accepts it.

Lanisen asks, “Whatcha thinkin’?”

Megren says, “Raisins are perfect.”

Lanisen says, “This is true.”

Megren says, “I’m really glad I have a comfortable place to go after a long day.”

Lanisen mms and dimples up, pleased by this.

Megren says, “That’s all I think.”

Lanisen says, “Well. I’m glad it’s comfortable here.”

Megren says, “Me too.”

Lanisen goes quiet, picking the raisins out of his scone-half to eat them first, then eating the rest of the scone when they are gone.

Megren glances at him, and then at the rest of her half-a-scone.

Lanisen finishes his and picks up his tea. He lets out a breath, glancing back at her.

Megren says, “You have to be the creative one, I’m too tired.”

Lanisen hmms?

Megren says, “If you want games or conversation or anything.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He tilts his head at her, frowning a little. “Do you?”

Megren lifts her shoulders. “I don’t mind sitting in quiet, either.”

Lanisen agrees, “Quiet’s fine.” Sorrel has come over and put her head on his knee, so he scoots down to the floor to cuddle her, setting his tea on the haybale behind him.

Megren sets down her cup and drapes herself over the hay bale again, this time lying on her stomach.

Lanisen twists to move his tea out of the way. He reaches for a blanket from the stack and offers it to her.

Megren pulls it over herself rather lazily. “My arms might as well be a couple of loose ropes.”

Lanisen grabs a second blanket and moves to set it on the head-end of the bale, so she doesn’t have to rest her face on prickly straw.

Megren wrinkles her nose gratefully at him.

Lanisen, this done, settles back, leaning against the haybale and letting Sorrel find her spot again. “I talked to Danall a bit,” he says abruptly. “He reckons he can spare me in the spring.”

Megren asks, “Yeah? How long?”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “Six weeks, top, I said.”

Megren asks, “When will you go?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. When it starts bein’ nice.”

Megren asks, “Nice, nice, or just not too cold and hard to pass?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. Somewhere in the middle.”

Megren asks, “What will you need?”

Lanisen frowns, thinking over this. He pauses, then asks, “Can you– can you teach me about poisons, before?”

Megren says, “Oh, oh.”

Lanisen says, “You were sayin’, you were sayin’ when we were in Narnia there’s a way.”

Megren says, “Yes, yes I can. It’s not, it’s not fast or nice, it’s more for if you need to eat things and don’t know, and it takes all day.”

Lanisen pauses again, but nods.

Megren says, “I can lay it out for you though; it’s pretty straight-forward.”

Lanisen asks, “What do you have to do?”

Megren says, “Well, first there’s a lot of kinds you should just avoid. Shiny leaves, mushrooms you don’t absolutely know, red berries…. definitely anything that looks like carrots from above ground but isn’t. ”

Lanisen says, “Hang on,” and gets to his feet. He comes back with a piece of paper and a charcoal. “All right.”

Megren says, “So, this is a last resort. It’s for if you’re starving or some other reason you’ve got no option but to test a plant. You can still get sick from it. Write that down; it’s part of the list.”

Lanisen looks slightly startled, but he nods and bends his head over the paper.

Megren says, “If you’ve got a choice, you want to choose a plant there’s a lot of. That way hopefully you won’t have to test more than one.”

Lanisen says, “All right, yeah.”

Megren says, “Don’t eat for the better part of a day first. Like — if you can do it after you’ve slept through a night, that’s about how long you should be waiting. Then one you’re ready you separate everything: flowers, leaves, stem, roots, because sometimes plants have one part thats good and another that’s poison.”

Lanisen scribbles notes, frowning in concentration.

Megren says, “While you are doing that you should be wearing gloves or using a cloth, and you want to check for grubs or bugs. That means it’s rotting, even if it might have otherwise been edible.”

Lanisen says, “Grubs… or bugs…” and nods.

Megren says, “All right. Then you want to see what happens if it touches your skin. The inside of your arm is good. You try each part of a plant and wait the better part of a day again to see if you get a rash or anything. if you do, you stop and try a new plant.”

Lanisen asks, “If it doesn’t?”

Megren says, “If it doesn’t, you can cook it, and then hold it against your lip for about as long as it takes to steep a cup of tea.”

Lanisen blinks, but nods and writes it down.

Megren says, “If it burns or tingles or anything else, you stop and try a new plant. If it doesn’t, you can put a tiny piece on your tongue and hold it there without chewing for a quarter hour.”

Lanisen’s forehead furrows. He keeps writing, taking abbreviated notes.

Megren asks, “What do you do if you notice a reaction to that?”

Lanisen says, “Find a new plant.”

Megren says, “Right. Otherwise you can chew it, without swallowing, the same amount of time.”

Lanisen wrinkles up his nose.

Megren says, “I told you it takes forever.”

Lanisen asks, “Swallow it next? How long do you have to wait after that to see?”

Megren says, “The same as with the skin and the going without food, about a night’s sleep worth.”

Lanisen says, “And if you’re fine, then it’s safe to eat?”

Megren says, “First, if you’re not fine, throw up and go to your safe water source and drink.”

Lanisen writes this down.

Megren says, “If you are fine, you’re not done yet. You take the same part of the plant you had before, and only that part, and you cook it exactly the same way you did before, and then you eat just a little. The amount you’d put in a teapot for two.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Megren says, “Then it’s going to be bed time again so go to bed.”

Lanisen squints. “What if you starve to death first?”

Megren says, “You don’t starve to death in one day or even two or three days, if you have safe water.”

Lanisen laughs, and nods, and writes this down too.

Megren says, “Odds are, you’re going to have SOME plant you know and know you can eat, even if there’s not enough to sustain you for the number of days you need it to. Lamb’s ear maybe, or garlic or kale or leeks. Then you can do the test on another plant over a few days, and balance it out with eating the one.”

Lanisen nods, still writing. “The next day is it safe to eat?”

Megren says, “The next day its safe. And the vomiting again if something happens. But you have to eat it just the way you’ve been preparing it. Sometimes plants are poisonous raw, but not cooked. Or seared, but not boiled. You only know it’s safe the way you cooked it.”

Lanisen nods and adds this to the end of his list. “Anything else?”

Megren asks, “What have you got on the list of poison signs?”

Lanisen checks. “Rash, burning, tingling… I guess sour stomach, too?”

Megren says, “Throat closing up, too much time at the latrine, throwing up, any kind of sick.”

Lanisen nods, adding these.

Megren asks, “What about visual signs on a plant?”

Lanisen says, “Ahhh, I didn’t write those down…” He squints. “Um, shiny leaves, red berries… looks like a carrot?”

Megren says, “Bright red berries are usually the poison ones, and white berries.”

Lanisen scribbles these down in a corner of the paper. “There was another one…”

Megren says, “It’s mushrooms. They’re too complicated to explain or put on a paper.”

Lanisen says, “Mushrooms, right.”

Megren lists, “Milky sap is bad, pods are bad, thorns and spines and hairs a bad. Leaves grouped in three… heads like thistles… um…”

Lanisen writes rapidly to keep up. Some of his notes turn out in little sketches.

Megren says, “Oh, oh, I always forget, smells like an almond.”

Lanisen blinks.

Megren lifts her shoulders. “I’ve smelled it on plants and da said ‘that’s almond smell’ but I only smelled an almond when I got here.”

Lanisen says, “Huh,” but writes it down anyway. He hesitates, tapping the page absently with the charcoal.

Megren says, “If you can, you should do the test even if you’re pretty sure a plant’s safe, but I can give you a list of things to look like that /are/ usually safe.”

Lanisen says, a little absently, “Yeah, all right.”

Megren says, “Blueberry, blackberry or other things shaped like blackberry, strawberry, dandelion, onion, chestnut, asparagus, kelp that’s out of the ocean, not washed up onto shore.”

Lanisen straightens and flips over the paper, scrambling to write these down.

Megren asks, “If you see an animal eat it is it safe?”

Lanisen hesitates. “Noo?” he guesses.

Megren lifts a finger and points it at him in confirmation. “Same as you won’t let the dogs have at a hot chocolate spill. Not everything’s poison to everyone. Might be a good sign for a plant to test though, especially if it’s one you think you recognize.”

Lanisen nods and adds a note about this. He hesitates again, pulling his lips between his teeth, then asks without looking at her, “Is there a way to, to test if there’s somethin’ in your food that shouldn’t be?”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “You can do the skin and the lip test, and the holding it in your mouth. If you’re in front of them you might not be able to do it as long as you’re supposed to, but you could do a shorter version pretty discretely, I think, and at least avoid the quick-reaction things, which a lot of them are.”

Lanisen nods, flipping the paper to write a note about this on the poison side.

Megren says, “Any time you think you’ve had poison you should throw up and drink water.”

Lanisen asks, “What do you do if it’s… if you, if you can’t?”

Megren asks, “Drink water?”

Lanisen says, “Um, either, I guess.”

Megren screws up her face. “Um. Everything you can to draw attention from any potentially sympathetic party, I suppose. Same as a kidnapping.”

Lanisen moistens his lips and nods, his eyes still fixed on the paper in front of him. He poises the charcoal to write, but doesn’t write anything, as there isn’t really anything here to write.

Megren says, “If you can’t drink water, it’s still probably better to throw up. I’m not sure about the other way around. I’d ask Adrian.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Megren says, “He might have something you can keep on you to test for or counteract a common poison, too.”

Lanisen turns his head to look at her at this. “That’s–” he starts. “There’s, there’s things like that?”

Megren says, “Um? I’m not, I’m not an expert. Some poisons go better if you get in an infirmary right off, though. I can’t imagine there’s one for every poison, or probably not one that works for multiple poisons, but if there’s something that’ll spare you from the worst of something, that’s worth asking about, I figure.”

Lanisen nods, a little absently, and makes a note to do so. “Thanks.”

Megren says, “That’s all I have. You can watch me gather mushrooms sometime but it takes a long time to learn.”

Lanisen says, “I don’t imagine there’ll be many out this time of year anyway.”

Megren nods.

Lanisen blows the charcoal dust off the paper and folds it up. “Thank you,” he says again. “This is– I’ll breathe easier for knowin’ it.”

Megren asks, “Are you afraid Myrd’s going to try?”

Lanisen hesitates. “No,” he says eventually. “No, that’s not– really his style.”

Megren says, “Well, that’s a start, I guess.”

Lanisen folds the paper a second time, taking care with the crease. “I just… don’t want to be caught off my guard again, is all.”

Megren says, “Yeah.”

Lanisen says, “Anyway.”

Megren says, “You’re going to be fine.”

Lanisen nods.

Megren says, “There’s people who care about you across two whole countries that’ll notice if you’re in trouble.”

Lanisen swallows and nods again, not looking up from the paper.

Megren asks, “What are you thinking?”

Lanisen says, “Noth– I’m, nothin’.”

Megren drops her hand to drape on the floor. “Well, I don’t believe that.”

Lanisen draws a deep breath and rubs the side of his face. “I prob’ly won’t stop bein’ anxious about it until I’m home again,” he says matter-of-factly.

Megren says, “I don’t guess that’s unfair.”

Lanisen puts the paper in his pocket and hugs his knees.

Megren says, “You’re one of the best people.”

Lanisen shifts uncomfortably.

Megren says, “Being anxious stops a lot of people from doing good things.”

Lanisen says, “I haven’t done it yet.”

Megren says, “You will.”

Lanisen doesn’t say anything to this.

Megren makes a face. “I feel like I don’t say the right things to you anymore.”

Lanisen shifts, immediately remorseful. “No, that’s not– I’m, I’m sorry, it’s not, it’s not you.”

Megren says, “See.”

Lanisen asks blankly, “What?”

Megren says, “Saying that made you feel bad.”

Lanisen pauses uncertainly. “There’s no right way to answer that, then.”

Megren sighs. “I’m sorry.”

Lanisen says, “It’s, it’s /not/ you, I’m just all… all tied up in knots, I don’t know what’s goin’ to happen. I’m sorry.”

Megren asks, “Talking about it doesn’t help?”

Lanisen hesitates, then lowers his head and says, “Not… any further.”

Megren looks like she’s debating with herself.

Lanisen rubs the scars on his wrists with his thumb, then pulls his sleeves down to hide them. Sorrel is curled up next to him and he pets her side absently.

Megren asks, “Can I ask you a hard question?”

Lanisen glances at her.

Megren lifts her brows.

Lanisen says, “Sorry, yes, of course, yeah.”

Megren hesitates, lifting herself up onto her elbows. “Um.”

Lanisen’s forehead furrows. He turns himself a little so he can more easily see her face.

Megren says, “I’m nervous about what’s going to happen between us when you go to Narnia, but that’s not the only big change ahead.”

Lanisen looks down, nodding.

Megren asks, “Are you nervous about if I get my knighthood?”

Lanisen says, “That’s– no, you’ll– you’ll be a great knight.”

Megren pauses, and then says, “Are you nervous about Sir Darrin?”

Lanisen pauses here, and his eyes flick up to her face, half-wary. “I don’t– What do you mean?”

Megren takes a big breath and then just says, “You know.”

Lanisen stares at her, trying to assess this, sitting quite still.

Megren says, “You are nervous about it.”

Lanisen swallows. His eyes have gone dark and anxious, and he doesn’t seem to know how to answer.

Megren asks, “What can I do to fix that?”

Lanisen swallows again, curling his arms around his middle. “It’s not– You don’t have to fix it,” he finally says.

Megren shifts so she can place her hand on his arm. “Listen, I–” she pauses, trying to sort out the words. “You know that I love you. I’m not going to stop loving you or supporting you the way I have been because of how I feel about him, or how I feel about anyone else.”

Lanisen’s eyes follow her hand, rather than looking at her. He’s tense and stays very still. “I know that,” he manages, trying to reassure her. “I– I know, it’s, it’s all right.”

Megren pulls her hand back and her eyes unfocus as she holds another internal debate.

Lanisen’s eyes fix on his knees and he doesn’t move.

Megren sits up and slips off the bale, nudging Nia to give her room to sit next to him. “Is it going to change things anyway?”

Lanisen can’t look at her. “Please don’t worry about me,” he begs.

Megren says, “I’m…. not exactly — I’m worried about us, this.”

Lanisen rubs the side of his face and doesn’t look up.

Megren says, “If it’s going to change things I want to know.”

Lanisen says, “I don’t want, I don’t want it to.”

Megren says, “I don’t either.”

Lanisen nods.

Megren says, “It’s not going to change from me unless you ask for it to.”

Lanisen’s face twists a little, but he doesn’t look up. “I’m not…” He stops, and swallows, and then says, “I’m not askin’ for anything.”

Megren asks, “Are you sure?”

Lanisen does look up at this, searching her face. “What’s, what do you mean?”

Megren pauses, and then says, “It means… you’ve been avoiding my eyes a lot the last two months.”

Lanisen looks startled and confused. He draws back slightly, and his eyes dart away from hers automatically for a second. He corrects the action, but it’s an uncomfortable, half-flinching sort of eye contact. “I don’t mean to be, I don’t mean to be…”

Megren rubs her cheek and does him the service of breaking the contact so he doesn’t have to. “It’s, um, I’m sorry if I’m reading it wrong; I thought it was Jana at first, but then it kept on, and it’s at times when you wouldn’t have before, even with Aaron.”

Lanisen says again desperately, “I don’t mean to be; I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”

Megren falls quiet for a moment, and then says, “I won’t say what I’m thinking if you don’t want me to.”

Lanisen goes still.

Megren looks down at her hands. “It’s not… my place to make you talk about it. I wouldn’t even, I wouldn’t even bring it up, except, it feels like something happened and everything I do to try to fix it just, pulls things a little more askew. I don’t know how to assure you that I’m the same as I ever was, or if that’s even what you want me to be assuring you of.”

Lanisen says, “Nothing– nothing’s happened, nothing’s happened, it’s– I’m, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry for makin’ you worry.”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side and rubs one thumb with the other.

Lanisen rubs his hands over his face.

Megren says, “Well, anyway.”

Lanisen says, “I didn’t know I was worryin’ you.”

Megren admits, “I worry.”

Lanisen says softly after a pause, lowering his head, “I wish you wouldn’t.”

Megren says, “I know.”

Lanisen puts his elbows on his knees and laces his hands together behind his neck, half-hiding his face.

Megren takes a breath and and looks like she’s considering trying to pull him back open again, but after a second she just reaches her arm to rest over his back and rests her cheek on his shoulder.

Lanisen swallows a couple of times, going tense and still for a moment. He breathes out and leans a little to the side, resting against her in turn. “I know you’re the same,” he says after a moment.

Megren stays quiet.

Lanisen doesn’t offer anything else.

Megren asks, “Are you the same?”

Lanisen says, “I think, I think so?”

Megren asks, “Will you tell me if you’re not?”

Lanisen says, “I don’t– what?”

Megren asks, “If you’re ever not the same, will you tell me?”

Lanisen says, “I don’t know what that means.”

Megren sits up. “Maybe I don’t know what you mean.”

Lanisen shifts, pulling away as she does. “Um…”

Megren pulls up her knees to let him explain.

Lanisen says, “I don’t– I’m, I’m sorry, I don’t know what it is you’re askin’.”

Megren says, “What does it mean, you know I’m the same.”

Lanisen says, “You’re not different.”

Megren sighs.

Lanisen shifts, upset, and swallows. “I’m– I’m sorry, I’m not tryin’ to be– You, you seemed like you were thinkin’ I thought you changed, and that’s– I don’t think that.”

Megren says, “All right.”

Lanisen hesitates, then nods.

Megren scrubs her face tiredly.

Lanisen looks away. He wraps his hands around the back of his neck again and ducks his head down.

Megren says, “I wish you–” she frowns at the hint of accusation in her tone and reroutes, “I think I was too tired to start this conversation; I should probably go.””

Lanisen’s eyes flick toward her, worried and assessing. “I’m sorry.”

Megren says, “It’s, don’t be. I’m just — not making things better, and there’s no sense in sticking around to keep poking at sores.”

Lanisen pauses. “What– what do you need from me?” he asks finally. “What’s, what can I do, what am I doin’ that’s bad, that’s worryin’ you?”

Megren says, “Nothing, it’s — fine, it’s, I want you to be you, and I want you to be happy, and sometimes you can’t /be/ you and be happy, and that’s, it’s just, it’s, it’s fine. I’m not, I’m not in charge of it.”

Lanisen rubs his eyes.

Megren says, “Listen, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

Lanisen says, “It’s, no, it’s all right. I’m sorry.”

Megren says, “Don’t — it’s fine.”

Lanisen lowers his head again and lets it be, though he avoids looking at her again unhappily.

Megren sighs. “Now if I leave though I’m leaving it unhappy.”

Lanisen looks up at her, lifting his eyebrows, and scrubs his hands over his face again. “That’s not– no, please, it’s– You don’t, you don’t have to stay, I’m not askin’… Please, if you need to go or want to go, you don’t have to stay.”

Megren says, “You’re going to think I’m like Sir Colin.”

Lanisen says, “You’re not, you’re not like Sir Colin, I already know that.”

Megren looks skeptical.

Lanisen shuts his eyes for a moment. “Just– if you, if you need to go, it’s all right.”

Megren says unhappily, “I don’t need to go.”

Lanisen says, “Want to, then.”

Megren says, “No. If I leave then things /have/ changed because that’s not something I would do to you.”

Lanisen pushes the heel of his hand against the ridge of his browbone. He looks tired.

Megren says, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to do.”

Lanisen says, “You don’t– please, you don’t have to do anything, that’s– that’s what I been tryin’ to say. You can go if you like or you can stay if you like and either’s, either’s fine, I won’t be…”

Megren hunkers down and closes her eyes with her arms across her stomach.

Lanisen looks at her, and his face goes slack and scared. “Meg?”

Megren says, “I’m just tired.”

Lanisen swallows. He scoots nearer and reaches out hesitantly, offering an arm around her shoulders without fully committing to the action, leaving space for rejection.

Megren lets her head droop.

Lanisen curls his arm lightly around her back, reaching across with his other arm to complete the circle.

Megren’s expression flickers with guilt.

Lanisen shuts his eyes briefly, then offers haltingly, “I’m sorry for anything I said that, that hurt you, I’m so sorry.”

Megren says, “No. You never have.”

Lanisen asks, “Even on accident?”

Megren says, “No. I don’t think so.”

Lanisen says, “If I ever do, then.”

Megren opens her eyes, loosing a breath. “No. That’s too much. You can’t be sorry for things you haven’t done.”

Lanisen says, “Sorry.”

Megren reaches up and shoves him limply in the face.

Lanisen makes a sputtering noise.

Megren says, “You deserve it.”

Lanisen lets out a small affronted huff of breath, sitting back against the haybale and withdrawing one arm, though he leaves the other around her shoulders. He rubs his forehead.

Megren closes her eyes again.

Lanisen drops his free hand from his head and goes quiet and still.

Megren says, “I wish I always knew what to say.”

Lanisen says, “You pretty nearly do.”

Megren says, “That just makes it stupider when I don’t.”

Lanisen snorts.

Megren says, “You think too well of me.”

Lanisen says, “No, I don’t think so.”

Megren says, “Exactly.”

Lanisen snorts again.

Megren says, “If anyone got half so much grace–”

Lanisen asks, “What, now?”

Megren says, “Think if you thought of yourself half so well.”

Lanisen wrinkles up his nose.

Megren says, “I hope some times you do.”

Lanisen looks uncomfortable.

Megren says, “I always think I can read you and then find I’m wrong.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Megren says, “I always think people treat you like you’re less powerful than you are and then turn to find I’m talking the same.”

Lanisen lifts his eyebrows, wearily amused. “Powerful.”

Megren says, “I don’t know. Capable. Discerning. In command of yourself.”

Lanisen seems more amused by this, but he turns his face away, as if the words sit sour.

Megren says, “You are, I’m not… you are those things. I’m pretty sure sometimes I get in the way.”

Lanisen says, “I’m pretty sure sometimes a stranger could come up and say ‘boo’ and I’d fall over backward.”

Megren says, “I know you’re sure of that. But I’m pretty sure most of the people I know would have died or never got found or both, if they’d had to go through Darius. And I’m completely sure I have no real understanding of how a person gets out of following a person like Myrd and ends up with a mind their own and a set of morals as good as any knight’s and better than some, but here you are.”

Lanisen folds his free arm over his stomach. He looks distantly troubled, but doesn’t answer.

Megren opens her eyes to get a glimpse of his face. “See, it bothers you when I say that, it always bothers you when I say that. I have no idea what to do with that.”

Lanisen lowers his head. “Sorry.”

Megren shoves him again, this time in the side and less playfully.

Lanisen draws a startled breath and twists away from the shove, squirming and halfway withdrawing his arm from her shoulders in a reflexively defensive movement.

Megren asks, “Why do you do that?”

Lanisen answers, still guarded in case she tries it again, “You /pushed/ me.”

Megren asks, “No, I, sorry, I shouldn’t have, why do you always /apologize/?”

Lanisen relaxes a little, but his eyes flicker uncertainly to her face with a different sort of wariness. He doesn’t answer.

Megren says, “That’s not, that doesn’t fix anything. Sorry’s for after you can’t undo it, and even then, it’s not, it’s not usually enough.”

Lanisen withdraws his hand the rest of the way and folds it self-consciously with the other across his middle. He still doesn’t say anything, and he looks a little sick.

Megren is brought more fully awake by the movement, and she sits up a little. “I just, I don’t know how to respond to it.”

Lanisen says, “I don’t– I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.”

Megren says, “You can, you can argue, or you can explain yourself, or you can do something different, I don’t, I can’t remember a time I told you something looking for you to be sorry. It makes me… feel bad for even bringing it up.”

Lanisen is slightly pale with confused distress and stays quiet, probably because the only response he has to make is the one he’s being asked not to.

Megren looks regretful. “Listen, I just, I’m not, I’m not trying to put everything on you and I, I know you really /are/ sorry when you say it, but I don’t, I don’t know what to do with it, and most of the time I wish you weren’t sorry, and then I feel like I’ve done something wrong, and I can’t imagine that’s what you’re hoping for.”

Lanisen says unhappily, “No… no.”

Megren falls quiet, looking like she’s kind of in that situation right now.

Lanisen takes a shaky breath. “I didn’t mean for that, I didn’t mean…”

Megren says, “I know.”

Lanisen says, “I didn’t know–”

Megren says, “That’s, that’s why I said.”

Lanisen doesn’t say anything else for a minute. “I’ll– I’ll… um… I’ll try not to…”

Megren says, “I don’t want to just switch it around to you being the one who doesn’t know what to do.”

Lanisen rubs a hand over his face.

Megren screws up her face ironically but says it anyway: “I’m sorry.”

Lanisen says, “No, that’s– don’t, you shouldn’t… you shouldn’t be sorry ’cause /I/ hurt /you/, that ain’t…”

Megren acknowledges, “No. I’m sorry… that I don’t know how to make conversations easier, how to, how to say what I need in a way and at a time that it can be addressed without causing other discomfort.”

Lanisen doesn’t look happy with this reframing. He lifts his arms again to lace his hands behind his neck, drawing his knees in.

Megren gently tugs his hands apart this time.

Lanisen avoids her eyes, but lets her.

Megren says, “Name one flaw about me.”

Lanisen gives her a startled look.

Megren nods.

Lanisen says, appalled, “What’s the point of–”

Megren says, “Because I don’t get the impression you think I have any.”

Lanisen gives her a frowning sidelong look of slightly annoyed disbelief, but he’s uncharacteristically obstinate on this point. “No, I won’t.”

Megren frowns slightly, but she relents with dip of her head.

Lanisen lets this be and faces forward again, though his jaw sets and he still looks confused and irritated.

Megren releases a breath and looks down at her hands.

Lanisen points out after a minute, “You think /I/ have flaws.”

Megren says, “Everybody does.”

Lanisen says, “Yes, of course, so– why wouldn’t I think /you/, who I know best in the whole world, why would I think you don’t have any?”

Megren screws up her mouth.

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side, like he wants to say more but doesn’t know how, and looks away.

Megren says quietly, “I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair.”

Lanisen says, “To, to either of us, it’s–” He pauses, momentarily tongue-tied, then lets out a small frustrated breath. “I’m, I’m, I’m not friends with you because I think you’re a perfect person, I’m friends with you because– you’re a good and kind person who cares about other people and cares about– about things like healing, and mercy, and helpin’ other people grow to be better than they are, but that’s not– you’re not /perfect/, I know you’re not perfect, you don’t have to try to be perfect.” He pauses, and then adds, “And there’s one, if you like, because you do try to be and you don’t– you don’t let yourself /not/ be, and then you hurt your own self and there’s nothin’ any of us around you who love you can do.”

Megren presses her lips together and stares at her thumbs, but says, “All right.”

Lanisen ducks his head and looks away, having run out of words, but peeks back at her. He doesn’t look apologetic, exactly, but he is watchful to see how this is received.

Megren says after a moment, “I’m not sure what to do with that either but at least it’s — it’s a real answer, it feels like you talking, and not just a blank wall.”

Lanisen says, “What?”

Megren says, “That’s what the sorry feels like. Like, hitting a target only your arm goes straight through.”

Lanisen pulls away slightly and looks at the floor. “I wish you’d said before how it bothers you,” he says in a lower voice. “Last year, maybe? Earlier, even.”

Megren says, “It — didn’t bother me at first. You, you had a lot in your head that it… wasn’t fair to ask you to share.”

Lanisen asks, “So what changed?”

Megren says, “Um. Time passed. You told me a lot of things. Sir Colin left. I don’t, I don’t know. Maybe I just became a less patient person. Or,” she pauses, and then a little hurt creeps into her voice as she admits, “You stopped, you stopped looking me in the eye.”

Lanisen exhales and pushes the heels of his hands into his eyes.

Megren looks guilty and unhappy.

Lanisen’s hands slide to the sides of his head, pressing on his temples. “I didn’t mean to,” he says again, subdued. “I didn’t mean to.”

Megren tugs on his wrist. “Please don’t, please don’t.”

Lanisen lets her pull his hand away without resistance. He rubs his forehead and between his eyebrows with his other hand and admits helplessly, “I don’t know what it is you’re needin’ me to do to make it better.”

Megren says, “Can, can you open, just a, just a little? I know it’s… I know I’m asking too much of you, and I promise I’ve tried not to ask it.”

Lanisen lowers his hand from his face and straightens his legs in front of him. “What do you mean?”

Megren says, “I don’t, I can’t know for sure because — that’s, that’s the whole problem.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Megren says, “If that’s not — if you need me this to be a, a different kind of friendship, where we have parts of ourselves we keep from each other and we don’t ask after those parts, that’s — I know that’s a real kind of friendship, and I can try to let it be that kind.”

Lanisen draws a slow breath and doesn’t look at her. He shuts his eyes briefly.

Megren sucks in a breath through her nose and says, “How about I go and you can decide without me staring at you.”

Lanisen swallows and stares at his hands without answering.

Megren squeezes his hand and then pushes herself up.

Lanisen pulls his lips tightly between his teeth and breathes out unsteadily, even as he pulls up his knees again so she doesn’t have to step over his legs to leave.

Megren says, “I’ve got another free evening tomorrow night.”

Lanisen nods quickly, not raising his head.

Megren sighs, clasping her upper arms with her opposite hands and standing there for a moment, then drops her hands and heads out into the main room.

Lanisen sniffs once she is gone and buries his face in his arms.

Megren slips out the main door and crosses her arms to trudge through the snow toward the stables.

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